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3 Intermezzi op. 117 [15:38]
Klavierstücke op. 76 [27:34]
Fantasien op. 116 [27:12]
rec. April 2007, Estudi Albert Moraleda, Llerona
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM0177 [67:41]
I have recently reviewed a great many discs of piano music
by Debussy. The experience has led me to note that, while nobody
to have the secret of all his pieces, by and large he seems
to draw the best out of his interpreters. I think I can
say that even the least of the discs I have listened to
contained at least a few performances to rank with the
best and to which I shall want to return. Brahms, by contrast,
is a recalcitrant brute and it’s only too possible to approach
him with the best of intentions and not really achieve
anything at all.
The present isn’t really a bad disc, but the sum of its minute little
mannerisms makes it a disc I shan’t bother to return to
and can’t really recommend. Since Farré is, for better
or for worse, consistent, I shall restrict my comments
to the famous Intermezzo op. 117/1, This is a piece that
most of my readers will have in their ears and in which
they may find it easiest to follow me. You will kindly
not suppose that, because it’s the first piece on the disc,
I didn’t get any further, because I could very well compile
a similar list of comments for every single piece here
if I thought it useful, or readable.
At the beginning all seems well enough, the tempo and atmosphere
close to the mark. But in the fourth phrase there are two
hiccoughs which are no doubt meant to be expressive but
just come across as slightly disruptive. For those who
amuse themselves singing this melody to the words of “The
First Nowell”, the hiccoughs are before “fields” and “lay”.
There is another bigger example when the theme is taken
up in the left hand. Whatever Farré intended, the effect
is that the first note is separated from the rest. I noted
several more cases in my score, and also a phrase where
the highlighted note was not the most important one, suggesting
that Farré’s tonal control is not absolute.
In the central section he begins well enough, though he
does not differentiate between the phrases which have the
typical Brahmsian “hairpin” crescendo-diminuendos
and those that don’t. Also, his ever-so-slight hesitation
before each phrase sounds rather automatic. Then in the
fifth phrase he makes a big crescendo, where Brahms has
a small one followed by a diminuendo, and the reminiscence
of the lullaby theme is something like mezzo-forte instead
of the marked pianissimo. Thereafter quite a lot of dynamics
are altered. When the lullaby returns there are the same
little nudges as before. Since my Henle edition is said
to be “urtext” I take it that the indication to hold the
pedal through the last three chords is Brahms’s own. It
certainly sounds better than the dry separation heard here.
I won’t make too much of the fact that, in the middle section, the
left-hand rests are pedalled through since, in spite of
this clear indication that the pedal is to be removed,
I have never heard a pianist do this. And yet the music
takes on a quite different dimension when this direction
is observed, giving real sense to the “Più adagio” marking.
It is true that Brahms was an adopted Viennese with the
sound of schmaltz and waltzes in his ears, but he hailed
from Hamburg and there is more of the bleak Baltic waves
in his left-hand figures than many pianists find.
All this may sound awfully Beckmesserish. My points are
small ones but they add up to give the playing a somewhat
uncoordinated air. Turn to Wilhelm Kempff in the same piece
and he is freer-spirited but also truer to the printed
page. Maybe if there were no other recordings I would just
lavish praise on the music and conclude that Farré is,
after all, a reasonable guide. But you can do so much better.
In some moods I find Katchen too free but on others his
improvisatory freedom holds me spellbound. Kempff is more
disciplined but no less poetic. And there is Gilels in
op.116. No, I’m sorry, but in this sort of company the
present disc is a non-starter.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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